Wilder Penfield ► Throwback Thursday

When I first moved to Canada — and later got involved in Canadian show biz —  one of the first people I became aware of was Wilder Penfield, III, who wrote about music and culture for the Toronto Sun.

For quite a while I was totally ignorant of a fact familiar to every schoolchild in the country. Before his death in 1976, Dr. Wilder Penfield, Wilder’s grandfather, was often called “the greatest living Canadian.” The Canadian Library and Archives says this under Famous Canadian Physicians:

Dr. Wilder Penfield was one of Canada’s foremost neurosurgeons. He is best known for the discovery of a surgical treatment for epilepsy, a brain disorder characterized by sudden and recurrent seizures. He was also the founder and first director of the world-famous Montreal Neurological Institute.

These 2 videos tell his story better than any thousands of words I could type:


Dr. Penfield’s life had an entire second act:

One of these grandchildren might be Wilder Penfield, III – 1956

During the last 15 years of his life, Wilder Penfield enjoyed a second career as a writer of historical novels and medical biography. It was his firm belief that “rest, with nothing else, results in rust” and he led by example. He wrote several books, including one that he completed in 1974 when he was 83. It was called The Mystery of the Mind and was an account for laymen of his studies of the brain over almost 40 years.

Dr. Penfield also devoted himself to public service, particularly in support of university education. His close friendship with Governor General George Vanier and his wife resulted in the creation of the Vanier Institute of the Family, which Penfield helped found “to promote and guide education in the home – man’s first classroom.” He also became widely known for promoting early second-language training.

l-r: Penfield, III; Linda Dawe; Roger Delair; Roger Ashby

When I was promoting Island Records in the ’70s, Wilder Penfield, III, was an important person to schmooze. However, since he was a fan of Reggae, it took almost no persuasion at all to get him excited about our latest releases.

Wilder also said something to me once that I still think is the funniest thing anyone has ever said to me, and it’s a line I’ve stolen and still use to this day. I was at some industry function in mid-February (if I remember correctly) and had to wander away for a washroom break. There I encountered Penfield, who thrust out his hand. As we were shaking hands he said to me, “Let me be the last to wish you a Happy New Year!”

Seeing as how it’s already January 26th, let me be the
last to wish all my readers a HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!


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Headly Westerfield
Calling himself “A liberally progressive, sarcastically cynical, iconoclastic polymath,” Headly Westerfield has been a professional writer all his adult life.